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7 Great Ways to Explore Colombo For Free

 Snake charmers charm at Viharamahadevi Park

Colombo is spoilt for choice when it comes to places to chill out, but beautifully maintained Viharamahadevi Park is a city favourite. The parades of palms and fig trees are spectacular, the lawns are dotted with statues and fountains, there are views of Colombo’s colonial-era Town Hall, and there’s always the chance of catching the odd snake charmer in action. Find a shady spot and you can people-watch for hours.

Join the locals on Colombo’s favourite promenade

Whilst it might not be quite as green as it once was, Galle Face Green is still frequented by locals in search of some relaxing downtime. There’s a tacky but loveable charm to this seafront park, which is animated by bubble-blowers, bouncing beach balls and vibrant kites swooping across the sky. It’s also a great spot for a snack – street food traders congregate on the waterfront at sunset, serving delicious Sri Lankan treats, including crispy egg hoppers and the island’s signature kottu, a griddle fry-up of chopped noodles, eggs and spices.

Mixing It Up in the Maldives

 Appreciating the Maldives’ natural riches

Nicknames aside, the etymology of the word ‘Maldives’ refers to the remarkable geography of this scattered archipelago. The ‘garland islands’ are indeed draped like a necklace across the Indian Ocean, hanging below the teardrop-shaped earring of Sri Lanka. And this is a treasure crafted from only the finest materials: white-gold sands with a turquoise trim, diamond-clear waters and sparkling sunsets framed by a curtain of palms. Every second spent here is a pinch-me moment.

The Maldives is the world’s lowest country in terms of elevation, and therefore first in the climate change firing line, which makes its natural wonders seem all the more precious, particularly when you meet the wildlife. Keen spotters, snorkelers and scuba divers should head to the southernmost atoll, Addu (also known as Seenu), to see spinner dolphins, sea turtles, whale sharks and white terns – a striking seabird found nowhere else in the Maldives.

Addu is also home to some of the islands’ most novel landmarks – a nine-hole golf course with lagoon views, one of the longest roads in the Maldives (a whole 16km, best travelled

Best Free Things to do in Delhi

 When visiting India’s historic capital, it’s worth paying out for big-hitting sights such as the Red Fort and Qutb Minar, but don’t overlook the abundant free sights and experiences in this fascinating city.  Take your pick from verdant parkland, centuries-old monuments, mysticism and faith, colonial pomp and circumstance and exploring contemporary Indian culture and the arts.

Keeping the faith at the Bahai House of Worship

This lotus-shaped temple was conceived and created by architect Furiburz Sabha in the suburbs of South Delhi, close to the burgeoning commercial district of Nehru Place.  In step with the tenets of the Bahai religion, the house of worship is open to all and everyone is invited to worship according to their own customs. Reflected in nine encircling pools, the gleaming marble structure is set in expansive gardens that teem with visitors, yet it retains a peaceful air of prayer and contemplation. Dusk finds the monument painted in surreal colours by floodlights as the sun sinks over the cityscape.

Soulful stirrings at the Nizamuddin Auliya shrine

You can step back seven centuries at the shrine of Delhi’s most beloved Sufi mystic. Every Thursday evening, singers fill the air

The Joys of Winter Walking

They do a mighty fine goulash in the Dog & Gun, using a recipe that’s been bringing in hikers for five decades. It’s the kind of sustenance the body craves after seven cold hours on the fells. We spill into the rosy warmth of the little Keswick pub, peeling off damp jackets and stamping the muck off our boots. The windows are fogged with condensation. Two pints are pulled, food ordered, a corner found. We settle. “Yep,” says Daniel, one long swig later. “Tired.”

The two of us have travelled up to the Lake District for four days of winter walking. A trip here is always something of a meteorological lottery, so by arriving at the start of the year there’s already an acceptance that getting chilly, and probably soaked, is a given. It helps take the uncertainty out of the equation.

At the same time, it’s also a season that heightens the solitude and bristling drama of the hills. We’re here – with about seven months to spare – to beat the summer rush. And when you’re alone on Maiden Moor in February and it’s blowing a gale, you know about it.

We’re starting

7 Wildlife Photography Tips

1. Gear up

Thanks to massive technological advancements in digital cameras, the barrier to entry for wildlife photography has become significantly lower.

To get started, invest in a decent DSLR (think Nikon D3300) with an entry-level telephoto lens (around 300mm). Bridge cameras work too, but the light sensitivity that a DSLR gives you can make a big difference. If you’re feeling creative, invest in a wide angle (anything under 35mm) to show off the gorgeous setting you’re shooting in.

2. Plan ahead and do your research

Scout out your intended shooting locations before you want to start taking pictures. Study how the light of sunrise or sunset changes the environment, find dens or roosting sites and, of course, witness the behaviour of your subjects.

Wildlife is inherently unpredictable, which is exciting but sometimes frustrating. Pick a species you want to photograph and do your research. When are they most active? Where do they live? What do they eat? How do they react to a human presence?

Understanding the innate behaviours of your subject will not only bring better sightings but ultimately, allow you to reflect their character in your photography.

3. Get

6 Great Places to Visit by Train in Europe

For foodies: Lyon

France’s gourmet capital has never been more accessible, with a direct Eurostar link toLondon and TGV connections that will whisk you to Paris or Marseille in under two hours.

Compact and instantly likeable, the city is perfect for getting to grips with in a weekend. Stroll the old streets of Vieux Lyon, test your adventurous palate with local specialties such as tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), then hit up the hip Croix-Rousse district for super-cool coffee bars and cocktails.

 

For nightlife: Budapest

Looking to get ruined? No, we’re not condoning bachelor party excesses, but embracing one of Budapest’s most famous attractions, the ruin bar.

These rambling bars have taken over abandoned buildings in the city’s seventh district, filling their dilapidated interiors with quirky decor, murals, art installations and more. You won’t find another night out in Europe quite like it.

As for getting there, direct rail links put you in easy reach of Vienna’s more sedate charms or the chilled-out Croatian coast via Zagreb.

For the journey: the Scottish Highlands

For more than 140 years, the Caledonian Sleeper Highland

9 Best Places to Visit in Europe on a Budget

1. THE ALBANIAN COAST

Looking for Mediterranean sun and sand, but your budget doesn’t quite stretch to Capri or the Côte d’Azur? Simply head further east and you’ll find sun-drenched beaches untouched by modern development. Albania is one of the cheapest countries in Europe, and as yet under explored by the tourist hordes. On its southern Ionian coast, steep grey mountains frame azure seas and golden sands.

Saranda – almost in touching distance of Corfu – is a handy entry point from Greece, from where you can aim for the beaches of Ksamil and nearby islands. Cheap seafood, warm seas and a smattering of isolated Greek ruins and Ottoman towns: the perfect recipe for a classic European sojourn.

2. SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

Though the scars of Sarajevo’s past as a city under siege are still evident – in the remnants of mortar shell explosions, filled with red resin to form “Sarajevo Roses” and in the museums documenting

6 Best Routes For Road Trips in Australia

1. Coastal views on the Great Ocean Road

Staggering ocean views and easy access from Melbourne make this one of Australia’s best-loved road trips. Pack an overnight bag and follow the dramatic coastline, stopping to view a series of coastal rock formations, holding their ground in the surf.

The magnificent Twelve Apostles – eight giant sea stacks – appear otherworldly at sunset, guarding the limestone cliffs. Among the other rocky highlights include London Bridge arch, the Bay of Islands and Loch Ard Gorge.

At Bells Beach, grab a wetsuit and do your best Keanu Reeves’ impression. This was the famous surf setting for his film Point Break, but it was actually filmed in California.

If you’re not a surfer you can hike in Great Otway National Park, say hello to the koalas at Kennett River or kayak out into Apollo Bay to observe a seal colony. Otherwise, take it easy at a beach restaurant in the seaside town of Lorne.

2. Adventure along the way from Perth to Exmouth

Driving north from Perth, you may expect nothing of the Outback landscape but scorched earth and straight roads all the way up

7 Tips For Backpacking Australia

1. Plan a rough itinerary

Spontaneity is one of the best things about backpacking, but in Australia it pays to have at least a rough itinerary, as it’s easy to underestimate how long it takes to get around this vast country. Spending longer than planned pottering around South Australia’s wine country – fun though it is – might mean you have to sacrifice that eagerly awaited trip to extraordinary Uluru or exploring the billabongs of Kakudu.

Three weeks is the absolute minimum to “do” the East Coast by land: Sydney to Cairns via the broad beaches of Byron Bay and the Gold Coast, self-driving the length of Fraser Island (the largest sand island in the world), sailing the gorgeous Whitsundays, diving at the Great Barrier Reef and trekking in Daintree, the oldest tropical rainforest on earth. So to see the rest of Australia, you’ll need to fly or have much more time.

2. Plan where to go when

At any time of year, Australia is a great place to visit but it can get unbelievably hot, as well as surprisingly chilly and rainy, depending on where you go. Avoid travelling

Best Area to Stay in Lisbon

Best for the historic centre: Baixa and Chiado

Lisbon’s Baixa, or ‘downtown’, is an appealing oblong of handsome buildings flanked by the squares of Rossio, Figueira and the grand riverfront Praça do Comércio. Its an impressive example of late eighteenth-century town planning in which many of its traditional shops survive. Most of its banks and offices have now been converted into hotels and guesthouses: a plethora of them have opened up in the last couple of years, so wherever you stay, you’ll be right in the thick of it. Consider adjacent Chiado, too, the chic shopping district that’s home to the famous café A Brasileira.

Best for romance: Alfama

The city’s oldest quarter is a fascinating warren of steep, winding streets that thread their way past densely packed houses where life carries on much as it has for centuries. Heading uphill towards the castle, you’ll get some of the best views Lisbon has to offer, across the terracotta roof tiles and the cruise ships that anchor on the broad Tagus estuary. Fado restaurants and souvenir shops are moving in, but this is still an alluring old-world village Lisbon where you can spend all day exploring.

Exploring Canada’s Haida Gwaii

Westernmost of Canada’s ten provinces, British Columbia has the motto “splendour without diminishment”. Nowhere is this more evident than Haida Gwaii, a remote and rugged archipelago of roughly 400 islands and islets. Rough Guides writer Rachel Mills climbed aboard a propeller plane for the rackety two-hour flight from Vancouver to the far north.

Haida Gwaii is special. Unique. Standing on the edge of an ancient ruined village as clouds flit across the sun, I stare up at a faded totem pole, split in two where a sapling pushes up through the rotten moss-covered wood. Here, it is easy to understand the Haida worldview that “everything is connected to everything else”.

Even more than the hauntingly beautiful landscape, it’s the Haida Nation and their relationship with the land that will stay with me.

The islands have been inhabited for more than 12,500 years, with the name Haida Gwaii, meaning “Islands of the People”, officially restored in 2010.

It’s the Haida Nation and their relationship with the land that will stay with me
With the British Columbia mainland around 100km to the east, across the shallow Hecate Strait, the only way to reach the

7 Tips For Backpacking Through Europe

1. Pick your season wisely

If you decide to travel during the peak summer season, try heading east – the Balkan coastline, the Slovenian mountains and Baltic cities are all fantastic places for making the most of your money. When tourist traffic dies down as autumn approaches, head to the Med. The famous coastlines and islands of southern Europe are quieter at this time of year, and the cities of Spain and Italy begin to look their best. Wintertime brings world-class skiing and epic New Year parties. Come spring it’s worth heading north to theNetherlands, Scandinavia, France and the British Isles, where you’ll find beautifully long days and relatively affordable prices.

2. Take the train

Getting around by train is still the best option, and you’ll appreciate the diversity of Europe best at ground level. Plus, if you make your longest journeys overnight and sleep on the train, you’ll forego accommodation costs for the night. Most countries are accessible with an Interrail Global pass or the equivalent Eurail pass. Depending on your time and budget, choose one corner of the continent then consider a budget flight for that unmissable experience elsewhere. Make sure you check

Is Valletta Europe’s most underrated city?

Why should I go?

Valletta is a beautiful place. The forget-me-not blue of the Mediterranean contrasts with the golden-butterscotch of the city’s buildings. Constrained by a narrow peninsular,Malta‘s capital is perched up high with soul-flipping views over the sea on three sides. It sits above the aptly named Grand Harbour, the deepest natural harbour in the Mediterranean, in use at least since the Phoenician era.

Valletta is packed to the gills with splendid monuments, too. It was built as the Knights of Malta’s victorious capital after their David-and-Goliath victory at the Great Siege of 1565, where 700 knights and 8000 local troops overpowered 40,000 Ottoman Turks.

There’s a lot to take in, but the city is compact and easy to navigate. You can walk from end to end in about half an hour, so there’s plenty of time to relax in between sightseeing.

Why is now a great time to visit?

It’s almost as if the city has awoken from a deep sleep. Regeneration projects have spruced up Valletta in preparation for its stint as European Capital of Culture next year, with fine mansions turned into boutique hotels, and new restaurants and bars

Perfect Travel Gear For Road Trips

Primus Omnifuel stove

If your road trip takes you away from civilization, or just to a campsite, you may be cooking. The Omnifuel stove from longstanding Swedish brand Primus, is ideal for travels with a vehicle: if you run out of butane/propane or white gas, simply syphon some petrol out of your car or motorbike tank. True to its name, the Omnifuel will also burn diesel, kerosene and even aviation fuel.

On the practical side, this stove is expertly manufactured, with surprisingly few parts so there’s less to go wrong. Features include stable legs and a heat adjustment dial so food can be simmered or boiled. Liquid fuel has to be pre-pumped and primed, but our testers found this process straightforward after a few practice runs; then they heated 500ml of water in three minutes and enjoyed a freshly brewed coffee.

  • Plus points: perfect blend of simplicity and functionality; quick to heat, compact pack size; supplied with a wind-guard which notably improves performance
  • Worth noting: butane/propane or white gas are recommended; when burning other fuels, nozzles can be clogged by deposits and require cleaning
  • Cost: £185, €219.95 (with fuel bottle)
  • Rating: quality 9/10; practicality 9/10; value

Hidden Gardens of Washington, DC

Dumbarton Oaks

Famous landscape architect Beatrix Farrand designed this botanical panorama in northern Georgetown. At Dumbarton Oaks, each sweet-smelling garden is more beautiful than the next. Be sure to check the website (www.doaks.org) before your visit to see what’s in bloom, but must-sees include the Orangery, where the climbing ficus dates from the 1860s; the rose garden, arranged by color; the Prunus Walk with its flowering plums; and the Pebble Garden, best viewed from the terrace above to take in the intricate, swirling neo-baroque designs of grey and white stones. It’s a shame that picnicking isn’t permitted on the grounds.

River Farm

Did George Washington ever wander past the centuries-old Osage orange tree that dominates River Farm’s Garden Calm? It’s possible. The first president owned these 25 park-like acres along the Potomac River just south of DC, and the story goes that the tree was a gift from Thomas Jefferson to the Washington family. Among the pocket gardens here, you’ll find a grove of Franklin trees (extinct in the wild), an orchard of pear, apple and plum trees, and an azalea garden with a rainbow of different species. The American Horticultural Society (www.ahsgardening.org)  now resides in the

Kuala Lumpur’s Best Cheap

A slice of Sarawak in Bangsar

If you set out to find the epitome of a neighbourhood eatery in Bangsar, the Sarawak laksa stall inside the Nam Chuan Coffee Shop food court is your best bet. The laksa (RM8) here is built for rainy days: a heap of chewy rice vermicelli arrives in a spicy, coconut milk-based soup that is crowned with shredded chicken, huge prawns, ribbons of sliced omelette and lashings of chopped coriander. Owner Christina Jong has been doling out bowls of comfort for more than 16 years – her version of Sarawak laksa doesn’t get any more authentic than this.

Vegan mixed rice in a temple

A heads up: don’t come here expecting a leisurely meal or doting servers. The neighbouring office crowd flocks to this budget-friendly canteen located at the back of Dharma Realm Guan Yin Sagely Monastery for one of the best vegan meals in the city. The mixed rice buffet (from RM5) displays more than 50 dishes, including vegan mock-meat items. Come on a Friday for lei cha (which literally translates to ‘thunder tea’), a Hakka rice speciality served with an assortment of chopped vegetables and accompanied by a ‘pounded’ tea drink.

Best Spice Markets in The World

Rahba Kedima, Marrakesh, Morocco

Rahba Kedima, also known as Spice Square, is the obvious place to head to for brash, bright and brilliant flavourings when in Marrakesh. The mixed spices for flavouring fish and meat are a must for adventurous cooks, while you can also snap up anise, mace and fresh cinnamon for a snip of the cost back home. If you want good saffron, don’t buy the ground stuff – ask to see the fresh strands. It can get pricey, so make sure you shop around before parting with your cash.

Try before you buy: take a break from the busy crowds at Café des Epices. The mint tea here is particularly good.

Long Bien Market, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi’s labyrinthine Old Quarter is home to a wide variety of spice stalls. But for something a lot more visceral, set your alarm for 4am and head to Long Bien Market on the banks of the Red River. This pre-dawn, wholesale spot is the place to buy the freshest mint, lemongrass, cinnamon, coriander and ginger. This is a working market, meaning tourists are few and far between, so be respectful when taking

A regional guide to Europe’s best road trips

Italy

Few countries can rival Italy’s wealth of riches. Its historic cities boast iconic monuments and masterpieces at every turn, its food is imitated the world over and its landscape is a majestic patchwork of snowcapped peaks, plunging coastlines, lakes and remote valleys. And with many thrilling roads to explore, it offers plenty of epic driving.

Recommended trip: World Heritage wonders – 14 days, 870 km/540 miles

Start – Rome; finish – Venice

From Rome to Venice, this tour of Unesco World Heritage Sites takes in some of Italy’s greatest hits, including the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and some lesser-known treasures.

France

Iconic monuments, fabulous food, world-class wines – there are so many reasons to plan your very own French voyage. Whether you’re planning on cruising the corniches of the French Riviera, getting lost among the snowcapped mountains or tasting your way aroundChampagne’s hallowed vineyards, this is a nation that’s full of unforgettable routes that will plunge you straight into France’s heart and soul. There’s a trip for everyone here: family travellers, history buffs, culinary connoisseurs and outdoors adventurers. Buckle up and bon voyage – you’re

Gearhead’s guide to rock climbing in Yosemite

To the untrained eye, these collections might look like a whirling dervish of clanking metal and knotted mayhem. But they serve unique and bespoke purposes that, in the right hands, can get you safely up and down the towering granite cathedrals of this enchanting valley.

Getting started at rock climbing in Yosemite

There are climbs for every ability imaginable somewhere in this park. First-timers should hit up the Yosemite Mountaineering School to do intro courses. In these intros, you’ll learn to safely belay your climbing partner, how to use your feet and hands properly to ascend the rock, and the basics of rock climbing safety. You’ll have a blast doing it, but it’s important to remember that climbing is dangerous. You should only go out on your own if you (or your partner) already know what you are doing. You can take more advanced courses at the Mountaineering School, or, if you’re confident that you’re ready for action, head to the notice board at Camp Four, where you can find climbing partners.

Rock climbing essentials

You can gear up before you depart for the park or wait to do your shopping at the

Exploring Nordlandsbanen on the Norway’s north

The journey

Though perhaps less well-known than the Oslo-Bergen train ride, the Nordlandsbanen, which stretches northwards for 729km between regal Trondheim and spirited Bodø, could certainly lay claim to being the more unique route. As well as being Norway’s longest train line, it also crosses the Arctic Circle, one of the few railways in the world to do so.

An efficient service and spacious, comfortable trains make it a delightfully sedate way to make the ten-hour journey, but it’s the huge diversity of scenery that’s most appealing. Gently rolling, emerald-green fields rest under huge skies, and Norwegian flags whip proudly over the pillar-box red hytter (cabins) dotted haphazardly over the hillsides. Moments later, the train will track its way through dense woodland, a wall of pine trees on either side of the train breaking just long enough to snatch a two-second-long postcard of mist haunting the treetops in a shadowy forest beyond.

Then, coasting out of a tunnel, the ground falls away to one side, and suddenly a 100m-high waterfall appears. Plummeting into a churning white froth below, the roaring deluge plays out silently on the other side of the train window. Such spellbinding scenes speed past repeatedly, and then evaporate into the distance, only to